Archive for super-bowl

Why Do We Believe Our Games Aren’t Fixed

Posted in sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by cueball

Brian Phillips wrote a wonderful synopsis of everything we know about the soccer match fixing scandal that Europol outlined earlier this week.  If you haven’t read it you should go right now.  I’ll wait.

Done.  Good.

The way he lays out the ease in which these games are fixed is fascinating.  Aided by the amount of games, the number of jurisdictions this Dan Tan Syndicate crosses, and number of bets placed any one game gets lost in the maelstrom.  This makes me wonder two things.  First, a 34 minute black out in the stadium where the Super Bowl was in the 3rd quarter in New Orleans.  Yeah, that isn’t fishy or anything.  Second, it seems it would be pretty easy to fix college basketball games.

I’m going to write some fictional account of what may or may not have happened in New Orleans a little later.

Now, for how it would be easy to fix a college basketball game.  Think of how many games there are on any Saturday.  According to the ESPN schedule, there are 146 games this coming Saturday, both great and small.  If you were going to point shave a game, you wouldn’t touch the UNC/Miami game at 2:00 on ESPN or the Louisville/Notre Dame game at 9:00 on ESPN.  You would look towards the Cal State San Marcos/Cal State Bakersfield game tipping off at 10:00 Eastern time.

You want a game with little national consequence and as little media exposure as possible.  You also want players who have nothing to lose.  A game between two major conference teams has too many players who want to be in the NBA.  They have too much to lose, but a kid on scholarship at some small school is just hoping to play some ball, maybe get a look with a NBA or NBDL team or play a couple of years in Europe or Asia.  Mostly, he is just trying to use the fact that he is a basketball player to get laid (“Every team in every sport on a college campus has groupies,” Terry Lankford, aka Eightball) and get a free education.  A $2000 offer to shave points might seem like a good business proposition to him.

So, you approach him and say, “We don’t want you to lose the game.  Just don’t cover or miss the over.  We will route the money to you and it will be clean as a baby’s butt.  No one will know.”  That is why point shaving is the best form of sports gambling corruption.  First, it is hard to prove without someone admitting it or getting caught with a bag of money for doing it.  Second, it allows the person shaving points to believe they aren’t really doing anything wrong.  You still win the game, just by not as many points as you should.

For me the question isn’t, “Why doesn’t this happen?” but, “How often does it happen?”  How many of us, college basketball fans look at the scores of the games at the bottom of the schedule on a Saturday night.  Do you think anyone not in the Cal State San Marcos Cougar family is going to notice this game?  The computer safe-guards the betting houses have can be skirted just by keeping the betting volume and amount under a certain level.  As long as you don’t get greedy with any one game and spreading your bets between multiple bettors, you can avoid that trap.

Look, maybe I’m a guy who always thinks about the absolute worst thing that can happen.  I did write a blog post about the nightmare scenario of a player getting killed during the Super Bowl.  But, if sports has taught us anything over the last ten years, the nightmare scenario maybe far worse then anything we can imagine.

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What Does The Battle of Bosworth Field Have To Do With The Super Bowl

Posted in football with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2013 by cueball

Don’t worry.  I’ll get to the Super Bowl in a second.

I have had Richard III on my mind a lot lately.  First, I powered through all 13 episodes of House of Cards on Friday which is based in part on Shakespeare’s Richard III and then there was the news that they found the actual body of Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester, England.  In Shakespeare’s play Richard III is thrown from his horse at the Battle of Bosworth Field making him incapable if leading his troops and ending his bloody 2-year reign as king of England and the last ruler from the House of York.  His loss and death and the course of all changed because of a bad horseshoe nail.  Remember, this is a short rudimentary history of the death of Richard III only to give the reasoning about everything else that is about to follow.  If you want a more complete history of the life and death of Richard III go read a book on English history, Shakespeare, or at the very least Wikipedia.

The horseshoe nail theory is a way of studying history looking for all the small moments that lead to the headline grabbing moment.  Our journalists are the chroniclers of history in real time, but sometimes they grow too infatuated with the grand moment.  They become enamored with the moment when Richard actually dies and not the moment that created the circumstances of his death.  They fail to notice that if his horse does not lose his shoe, he could have saved the battle and his throne.

All morning I have been reading how the final play of the San Francisco 49ers last drive decided the game through a non-call on an “obvious” pass interference/defensive holding call.  I would say that play was the simple culmination of a series of bad plays and bad play calling on the part of the 49ers.  To state that the lack of a call on that play kept San Francisco from winning the game absolves the San Francisco coaching staff of any responsibility of putting them in that situation and is the worst sort of transcriber journalism.

Allowing your team to be down 21-6 at half-time, giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half, and not giving your best player the opportunity to make a play on the final drive are all things the 49ers did to themselves before that final offensive play.  Or how about when given the opportunity to have a 35 minute time out before a 3rd and 13 play you come up with something a little better than a rushed check down to a running back for 6 yards and a punt.

Honestly, no one of these plays caused the San Francisco loss.  Also focusing on any of them ignores the fact that the Baltimore Ravens had a lot to do with final outcome of the proceedings.  Plus, the officiating was bad all night.  However, the narrative is being written on the last thing journalists saw and the spoutings of Jim Harbaugh at the press conference which reporters have dutifully transcribed as fact.  He comes in the press conference bitter and angry that his team lost the biggest game of the year and the final image was of a penalty that could have been called.  Of course, that is where he is going to place his anger, not on his players or coaches.

That is why journalists are allowed to ask questions in press conferences.  Why did you not call a different set of plays for Colin Kaepernick during that final sequence?  Why did you not have your punt coverage team prepared for Sam Koch running around to rag time off the clock before a safety?  If he answers your questions, you have story.  If he goes nuts and storms out after dropping a bunch of f-bombs, you have a story.  Simply regurgitating what he said isn’t a story.

I figured some reporters would blame the loss all on that final play, but I didn’t expect it to be Greek chorus lamenting how poor Jim Harbaugh got screwed.  I’ll go back to attacking the NCAA tomorrow and let the journalists rest.

Again, why do we follow sports?

Posted in football, society, sports, sports and society with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by cueball

What do sports mean to us?  What do we get out of sports at a personal level?

If we break sports down to their essential basics, they are rather absurd.  Put this small ball into a hole, 400 yards away using nothing but sticks in as few swings as possible.  Put this large round ball into an 8 foot tall by 8 foot wide space on the other end of the field using nothing but your feet.  Move this oblong ball down the field past this line while holding onto it.  These are patently ridiculous things to attempt to accomplish when viewed in a vacuum. Yet, we watch them religiously.

In simpler more innocent time, sports provided fans a sense of community and family.  As a fan of a sport and a team you were not alone.  There were others out there like you.  You felt as if you were part of something larger, something important.  Also, like a family, no matter how dysfunctional it may have been, you were still part of it.

Then the internet age began.  Now, maybe the most important thing sports provide is the same voyeuristic outlet as soap operas and movies.  With today’s 24/7 coverage of sports we get constant information that turns sports into a constant reality show.

We are bombarded with news about a player and what is happening in his life.  Athletes give feature interviews that run on the 8 ESPN channels every 5 minutes and people watch every time.  Athletes are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, etc. giving us the illusion of speaking directly to fans.  So we think we know these people.

What we don’t notice or care about is that the more access we have to them, the more they control what we see of them.  Unless, of course, they truly fuck up.  Then and only then does a usually compliant national press corps dig deep into a person.  Because at the moment athlete screws up publicly, his screw up drives ratings much better than his athletic exploits ever did.

Most non-football fans would not have known Manti Te’o if he came into their house and sat on their lap before last week.  Up until then he was just a football player at Notre Dame who might have an OK career in the NFL and some tragic stuff happened to him in September.  Now he is a national punch line or a grifter extraordinaire that everyone knows.

We go from thinking we know them and how great they are to making them a laughing stock and holding them up for ridicule in the time it takes to post a story on the internet.

I don’t want to go back to the mid-20th century of sports reporting where no one talked about Mickey Mantle being a drunk and getting into bar fights.  Neither do I want sports reporters to act like TMZ correspondents.

Yes, a lot of the stuff is entertaining (“honey nut cheerios” is funny), but does it in anyway enhance your viewing enjoyment of the sport?

Maybe I’m thinking about this stuff because first, the last year has seen many of the heartwarming sports narratives ground into dust by reality.  Or maybe it is that this is my least favorite two weeks of the sporting calendar.

During the two weeks before the Super Bowl, reporters get bored with talking about the game and stuff devolves into silly debates and made up angles and ridiculous stories.  Media Day at the Super Bowl is possibly the most odious thing we do in sports.  It has nothing to do with the actual game.  There will be no real news.  There will be nothing but gadflies trying to get a mention by the national media for something stupid they asked or wore.

Just once I want an athlete to get asked an idiotic question by someone wearing a costume and answer like this, “Seriously.  I am playing the biggest game of my life on Sunday.  I should be somewhere looking at tape or going over the game plan.  Instead, I’m sitting here with this dumb-ass in a Superman costume asking dumb-ass questions.  He is wasting my time and you guys time.  How the hell long do I have to sit here and do this crap?  I got things to do.  Some of them rather fucking important.  But hey, I’ll sit here and listen to this idiocy because if I don’t the commissioner will fine me for having common sense.  Next question.”

That would be one of the happiest days of my sporting life.

These Kinds of Stories Don’t Tell Us Who They Really Are

Posted in sports, sports and society with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by cueball

I have learned two things about athletes in my sport watching life.  The first is we do not know these people and the second is we love the story of these people.

My least favorite time of the sporting year is the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.  Because there is two weeks and there is only so much you can talk about with the game strategy and analysis we get a lot of flummery.  ESPN and the NFL network get bored talking about blitz pickups and try to find anything else to fill time.  The other networks are just looking for an angle to pull in more viewers.  So, every player or coach who may have some kind of impact on the game gets the NBC Olympic treatment.

If you have ever watched the Olympics you know that every athlete gets to tell their inspiring story of how they have overcome all these obstacles to get to the pinnacle of the most important moment in their lives.  Pure sports fans pretty much hate this approach.  They love sports for sports and just want to see the athletes compete.

The thing is, these stories that supposedly get us closer to knowing the athletes aren’t for the pure sports fan who makes up a fraction of the Olympic (and Super Bowl) audience.  They are designed to bring in the non-sports fan, and they work.  Like most things on television, if people don’t watch the networks stop doing it.  There is little if anything on a television network that isn’t measured by rating and how much money it will make.

We love these stories.  They seem better then movies because they are about real people.  You will often hear an announcer say something like, “Hollywood couldn’t make this up.”  The insidious problem is these stories often give us the illusion of knowing these athletes.

We don’t know them and these stories give us a fraction of that person, at best because these are human beings.  Human beings keep secrets from each other.  Hell, human beings keep secrets from themselves.

Every time a serial killer is caught, someone who lives next door to him or works in the same office with him will come out and say, “He didn’t seem like that kind of guy.”  If you work with someone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have lunch with them 2 times a week, and you still don’t know they are a serial killer, how can you expect to learn anything about an athlete from a 6-minute feature with Tom Rinaldi?  You will not know who they are at the end of those 6-minutes.  You will have heard a great story about them that gives you a glimpse at a fraction of their being, but that is it.

You would think the stories about Lance Armstrong or Manti Te’o would give reporters pause in considering doing these personal stories.  However, we are entering the worse time of the year for that, the pre-Super Bowl two weeks.  So, we will be drowned in stories about Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, Colin Kaepernick, and whatever else CBS, ESPN, the NFL Network, and every other news outlet can think of over the next two weeks.  I’m glad I have Netflix, college basketball, and a Kindle to distract me.